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A Kentucky task force wants nine changes to K-12 funding in 2022

J. Tyler Franklin

A state legislative task force has approved a list of nine changes they hope to see to K-12 education funding in 2022. The group of lawmakers, district superintendents and other stakeholders are calling on the Kentucky General Assembly to permanently fund full-day kindergarten, switch from an attendance-based funding model to an enrollment-based one and develop plans to pay for districts’ transportation costs and school safety upgrades.

“This is kind of like nine things on your child’s Christmas wish list,” Campbellsville Republican Sen. Max Wise said.

The General Assembly created the school funding task force in March of 2021. Members met six times over the last six months to review the state’s K-12 funding mechanisms and study possible changes. 

In addition to increases in transportation and school safety funding, the task force members also want the legislature to research how other states have measured the cost of an “adequate” public education. The landmark Rose v. Council for Better Education decision in 1989 required the legislature to fully fund an adequate public education system. But many are questioning whether the funding mechanism created in the 1990s addresses the costs and challenges of the present.

“I think it’s essential that we do the research to find out what we need to do—what it will cost to provide an adequate education where every child is given the opportunity to learn,” Louisville Rep. Tina Bojanowski, a Democrat and a teacher for Jefferson County Public Schools, said.

One of the biggest, and possibly most controversial, changes endorsed by the group would be moving away from an attendance-based funding formula. The current state funding formula gives schools an amount per student based on the district’s average daily attendance, rather than the average number of students enrolled. The formula is meant to incentivize districts to keep attendance up. Taylorsville Republican Rep. James Tipton says, instead, it penalizes districts with the neediest students.

“A lot of the school districts that have lower average daily attendance … they have students who are more economically disadvantaged … and those are the districts that need those funds more so,” he said.

The COVID-19 pandemic prompted lawmakers to rethink attendance-based funding, Tipton said, as districts have grappled with massive fluctuations in attendance due to illness and quarantines.

However, Lawrence County Schools Superintendent Robbie Fletcher warned that without increasing the overall funding going to K-12 education, switching models will create “winners and losers.”

“If we do not increase the education budget, then you’re going to have the lower-attendance districts increase [in state funding], whereas maybe the higher-attendance districts will decrease,” he said.

Fletcher was appreciative of a recommendation that lawmakers explore developing a “School District Impact Statement” for education bills to inform lawmakers about potential costs of legislation to school districts.

“There’s a lot of times that we have unfunded mandates,” he said.

Wise, who chairs the senate education committee, said the recommendations will be presented to house and senate leadership for consideration during the 2022 legislative session, which begins in January.

The task force’s full nine recommendations are below:

The General Assembly permanently authorize the full funding of kindergarten in statute and ensure districts receive the appropriate equalization funding as a result of the change; The General Assembly give consideration to transitioning from using average daily attendance in the funding calculation to using average daily membership in a manner that minimizes extreme funding changes for school districts while also maintaining incentives for student attendance and accountability for school districts; The General Assembly develop a plan to return to full state funding of district transportation; The General Assembly develop a plan to achieve full funding of the School Safety and Resiliency Act of 2019; The General Assembly provide funding to expand use of the state’s Family Resource and Youth Services Centers that have proven to effectively provide wraparound services to students in Kentucky’s schools; The General Assembly, in consultation with the Legislative Research Commission, explore the development of a School District Impact Statement to inform legislators about a bill’s potential cost to school districts; The Education Assessment and Accountability Review Subcommittee include in its 2022 Office of Education Accountability research agenda a review of the most recent studies measuring the cost of an adequate public education in Kentucky and similar states with a focus on the methods used in those studies, the outcomes, and the costs associated with educating special student populations; The Legislative Research Commission refer the report submitted by the Kentucky Department of Education pursuant to 2021 House Bill 405 to the Standing Senate and House Committees on Appropriations and Revenue for additional consideration during the 2022 Regular Session due to the late deadline for receiving the report; and The Legislative Research Commission continue to study and review the issues of school funding and the updating of the school funding system through referral of the issue to an interim joint committee during the 2022 Interim.

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